The Return of Tamoru…

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Previously on The Adventures of Lionel & Mamoru…Mamoru had created 25 minutes of material with a series of low-fi and lovable props and was beginning to look at the presence and role of a second performer/narrator on stage. Fast forward two months as Mamoru and Julie (the new narrator) have been in residence at Lyra Theatre for a few weeks and worked with a number of Craigmillar primary school classes to workshop material, test ideas and guide young people in generating creative responses to the issues explored in Eaten.

A number of additions and transformations have taken place expanding the material and narrative to just over 35 minutes; the main addition being the inclusion of Mamoru’s fictional twin brother Tamoru (encountered via a phone conversation in the first half) who appears in the second half to search for the missing Mamoru – a neat narrative device that enables the continuation of the dialogue between two characters – and he offers another voice for the audience to relate to in this tale of loss, food and the self.

Today is the first sharing with young people and there’s two different class groups in the studio; P7’s (aged 10/11) who have been working with Mamoru & Julie and P3’s (aged 6/7) who are entirely new to Eaten. As an audience member and programmer of work for families I have been in many performances when the audience has been made up exclusively of young people who’re attending with class mates during school time and when a performance is publicly ticketed and an adult/carer/parent buys tickets and brings young people with them. The audiences are incredibly different.

The National Union of Teachers creates an annually updated publication Education, the Law and You which looks at teachers’ duty of care for out of school trips and the legal liability required when leading/assisting with off site activities. When a teacher makes a decision to take a group of young people – who all know each other – out of the classroom to enhance their learning there is a level of paperwork, planning and risk assessment that often makes it easier to not leave the school. Schools and classrooms are a controlled space with defined behavioural boundaries whereas a theatre, gallery or park are not educationally controlled; they are physically porous and have multiple stimuli seeking the attention of thirsty young eyes.

As the two classes begin to watch Mamoru and Julie there is a consistent muting and shushing from the adults who accompanied the P7’s of any vocal reaction – whether that’s laughter, whispered nudges to friends or questioning an issue raised. The ability to verbalise and process what is being presented is immediately suffocated; this was a sharing where response was encouraged that would enable the work to grow and provide valuable feedback from an audience whom the work is made for.

How could Mamoru or the Lyra Theatre team have framed the event/future performances to encourage all people in the theatre to respond in way which is appropriate for artist and audience? An opening scene, played in character, could set out what would and wouldn’t be welcome as a level of interaction and agency for the audience? If an artist is making work that invites a response and a level of participation then they should be prepared for the unexpected as Mamoru encountered when he presented the same content to a publicly ticketed event at The Place, London:

“We showed the same version where the young audience behaved slightly differently. They jumped up and ran everywhere on stage when Lionel said he would eat them. A bit unexpected. The Place audience was children with their parents (and many adults without children. So the dynamics was very different from Lyra). I think the presence of teachers really changes their behaviour. As this happened when I was changing into the twin brother, I could not get out to help Suzi. She managed reasonably well, but we definitely have to find a way to deal with them. The easiest way is to give up Lionel’s line ‘I will eat you!’ but that’s too sad!”

The response from the P3’s and their accompanying adults was totally different and one moment in particular melted me a little. There are several moments throughout Eaten where a refrain from Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz is played and every time the soaring strings approached the chorus a young boy stood up from his seat, began waving his arms and swayed in time to Humperdinck’s voice. With Lionel waltzing alone on stage it felt like the boy had connected with the music, the choreography and the lion on stage creating a live invisible duet between the work and himself; he was so happy and unable to control his emotional response to what is being presented.

There is a cyclical debate around audience etiquette within traditional theatre venues including: Ben West in The Spectator to a poll by The Stage saying that 2/3 people would like food banned in the theatre and if you search “audience etiquette” on Twitter there’s a number of controlling voices demanding total silence and obedience when watching something in a theatre. However, audiences were not as controlled throughout history and not in the 18th century as illustrated in Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man which examines the imbalance between private and public experience, it looks at the causes of our social withdrawal and what could help people reconnect with their communities:

“When we look at the stage of the 1750’s we see not only actors but numerous spectators who have seats on the stage. And these “gay bloods” parade across the stage as the mood takes them…they feel no embarrassment at being themselves in full view of the audience, mixed up with the actors, in fact they rather enjoy it…the mixing of of the actor and the spectator in the 1750s, like the displays of feeling was not a Dionysian release, or ritual in which the actor and the audience became one person in the observance of a common rite…they were in control, objective and highly critical of the actors and actresses inducing them to weep.”

This idea and who is the owner of control when making work for young people in a theatre sits somewhere between artist, young person and their accompanying adult; it’s a delicate balance for all three parties to ensure that one is not overpowering the other thereby negating the emotions and excitement that are stimulated by a live encounter. The largest and loudest reactions from young audience members came from familiar tropes are often found in pantomime: “he’s behind you”, giant lip rasping farts as Mamoru exits Lionel through his bottom to reveal himself in a chocolate brown morph suit and pretending to eat some young people who’ve been invited on to the stage. In the Q&A session afterwards there was an unusual frequency of questions relating to a plastic steak that barely featured and was brought out towards the end: “can we eat the steak?” “was the steak real?” “what’s the steak made of?”

In a work that is placing food, animals, death and meat and the processes they encounter I thought this was a highly perceptive set of questions as the young people recognised that this steak was at the heart of the work and had been stimulated to ask a number of questions about it. The plastic steak is not just a cheap pet chew toy – it is a conceptual anchor of the show. Seeing their verbal and written responses it feels like there could be room for further sensorial development in how the audience are left with something to smell, touch or even taste as they leave. Lionel could nestle in their minds and also their stomachs.

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